Good Friday

“Jesus Christ Crucified,” Diego Velázquez, 17th century.

Now it gets deeply serious. Today is about Jesus’ suffering and death, the events that make eternal life for us possible. We again will use our pattern of daily prayer to sink deeper into this powerful story.


Praise: See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1.) He loves us so much that he would send his Son, God in flesh, to die for our sins, bearing the punishment we deserve. As much as we can, let’s consider for a few moments what an incredible gift we have been given—eternal life rather than death, which is eternal separation from this grand and glorious love.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him all creatures here below; praise him above ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost! Amen.

Confession: We know we have fallen short of God’s expectations, failing to follow his will for us and in the process, committing sins. Let’s take time to search ourselves and confess those sins, today bringing them before a cross we know to have been soaked in our Savior’s blood. Those of us who take part in a Good Friday service should have powerful reminders of the work done on our behalf.

Time in Scripture: John, Chapters 18 and 19.


Take time to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the season we are in, it also is a good time to consider the words of the Apostles’ Creed.


If you’re not able to attend an evening Good Friday service, try to find some time for meditative quiet, listening to what God has to say.

Holy (Maundy) Thursday

Easter approaches, but as we wrap up this season of Lent, we want to be sure we are appropriately absorbing what makes the celebration of Christ’s resurrection possible. First, we have to walk with our Savior as he moves through suffering and death.

If you have lost the pattern of prayer we rehearsed together last September and during the season of Advent, today and tomorrow are good days to try to recover them.


Praise: Let’s first take time to consider who God is and acknowledge that truth appropriately. He is Creator, Savior and Comforter, revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let’s praise God for the love poured out on us! Let’s also give thanks for the blessings we can see in our lives. Try to say a few out loud.

Confession: We know we have fallen short of God’s expectations, failing to follow his will for us and in the process, committing sins. Let’s take time to search ourselves and confess those sins. Those of us who take part in a Holy Thursday communion service tonight will find ourselves better prepared for that experience as we confess and remember this: Because we believe in Christ’s work on the cross, we are forgiven!

Time in Scripture: John 13 (NLT). Again, those of us in a Holy Thursday service are likely to hear this story tonight. Jesus teaches much simply through his actions; how do we imitate him?


Take time to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the season we are in, it also is a good time to consider the words of the Apostles’ Creed.


If you’re not able to attend an evening Holy Thursday service, try to find some time for meditative quiet, listening to what God has to say.

Holy Week

This being Holy Week, you’ll receive a couple of special devotions, one for Holy Thursday and one for Good Friday. If you’re local to the church I pastor, Holston View Methodist, you also can join us for gatherings on those days.

We will have a soup supper from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday night, followed by a time for worship at 7 p.m. There, we will hear and celebrate what Christ taught about Christian service and servant leadership.

Our Good Friday worship service will begin a little later, at 8 p.m. It will be a “Tenebrae,” or Service of Darkness, where we experience Christ’s suffering and crucifixion.

Lord, bless us as we draw closer to the truth of salvation during this Holy Week, and may our lives once again be transformed by your grace. Amen.

Cheering a Slave

Let’s prepare ourselves for a shift in the Lenten season. If you’re in a worship service this Sunday, you likely will hear a story that moves us into “Holy Week,” a chance to walk toward the cross with Jesus.

We are about to arrive at Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. The main point of Palm Sunday is to remember Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, the trip taking him toward death on a cross.

Crowds cheered Jesus as he rode along, hailing him as a conquering king. In our Palm Sunday worship, we mimic them, singing “Hosanna!” and waving palm fronds. (Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-15 record this celebration.)

The scene in Jerusalem was a raucous one, a rally in danger of becoming a revolt against the Promised Land’s Roman rulers. But let’s try to shift our viewpoint a little, looking into Christ’s mind as he traveled through the crowd.

In the second chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote about this entry-into-Jerusalem moment and the days that followed, when Jesus made our salvation possible.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness,” Paul wrote. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

The people hailed Jesus as a king, and indeed, he had more power available to him than any earthly leader has ever held. In Matthew 26, which contains one record of Jesus’ arrest, he stops his followers from resisting the soldiers and police by noting he could call down 12 legions of angels if he wanted to do so.

But this power did not go to his head; in fact, Jesus understood the use of such power to be counterproductive where salvation was concerned. Only a perfect sacrifice could save humanity from sin and death.

As Jesus rode by the people along the road entering Jerusalem, they unknowingly cheered a slave, one who had completely submitted himself to the horror to come. He did this for our sakes, of course, expressing a kind of love that is hard to comprehend.

From this story, with a little help from Paul, we learn what it means to be a Christian with power, be it power in a big setting, like a nation, or a small setting, like an office. As Paul wrote, we need to carry within us the mind of Christ, living sacrificially for others.

There’s also a lesson here about assuming knowledge of other people’s motives. A lot of backbiting seems to begin with phrases like, “I know why he did that” or “I know what she was thinking.”

Actually, you don’t. One of the hardest things to understand is another person’s motivation.

Those palm-waving crowds certainly didn’t understand what was in Jesus’ mind. That’s why they abandoned him when he didn’t behave as they thought he should, using power to establish a worldly throne.

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, pay close attention to how people exercise power around you or in the broader world. How would our world be different if people mimicked the mind of Christ as they wielded power?

Surprisingly Simple

In this Lenten season, we’ll call this “Back to Basics Day.” Let’s begin by considering exactly what Abram (later to be called Abraham) gave up when he listened to God and moved toward an unspecified land.

This initial call in Genesis 12:1-4 is written in a rather matter-of-fact tone, but the risk must have seemed huge for an aging man. He had property and people around him, including slaves, the mark of a comfortable, wealthy man. We don’t know how long Abram had been in Haran—we only know his father Terah had moved the family from far-away Ur some time earlier—but as the family had been able to grow their wealth while there, we can assume life in Haran had been good for them.

Now Abram was to pack his family and possessions and make a journey that ultimately would prove to be more than 500 miles, about the same distance as walking from from Upper East Tennessee to Jacksonville, Fla. For them, it was a dangerous month-long one-way trip, assuming the animals in their caravan were in good shape. A return visit to Haran or the true family homeplace, Ur, might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, perhaps when someone needed a bride of proper bloodlines.

And yet, Abram went, without question, without comment. He would have questions later, but not in this initial act of faith, this huge, trusting leap toward God.

It’s easy to get caught up in what Abram did rather than focusing on the importance of what was in his heart. The Apostle Paul uses Abram in the fourth chapter of Romans to illustrate that it’s the trust we exhibit that saves us, not any work we do. When God sees we trust him, he goes ahead and calls us righteous, even though we don’t deserve it. Paul made clear he was talking about the God we know best through Jesus Christ, the one who made all things and then restored all things to holiness despite sin.

So, we’re invited to a simple act of faith. But at the same time, we’re also called to remember that it’s so simple it can be confusing, particularly for the uninitiated. When we’ve turned away from God and are caught up in sin, we feel like we’re trapped in that Harry Potter hedge maze, the one where the turns and dead-ends seem endless and the roots and branches grab at us. We have to figure the maze out, right? To survive, we have to beat back what entangles us, right?

Wrong. All we really have to do is look up and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe you can pluck me out of this.”

In the third chapter of John’s gospel, we see the Pharisee Nicodemus desperately wanting to follow Jesus, but at the same time struggling in his rigid, legalistic mind with how to do so. Accept what is from above, Jesus told him. Trust God. Trust God’s love for his creation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” Jesus said. And then came the real kicker, particularly for a legalist striving to make himself righteous: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

What, God doesn’t seek to punish us first? I don’t have to clean up my act to accept God’s gift of salvation?

We have Nicodemus types around us, perhaps even among us in church. They want to make that first step toward God much more difficult than it is, trying to resolve personal angst and the global problem of evil in one fell swoop. Often, they expect a requirement to crawl at least halfway back toward the one they’ve offended before being accepted.

As Christians, our job is to keep simple what can be misunderstood as complicated. The God of Abraham, the God who walked among us and died for our sins, loves us. He’s been reaching down to humanity for thousands of years and continues to do so today.

Sure, once we accept God’s offer, there’s more to do. It’s only natural that we want a developing, continuing relationship with the one who gives us eternal life in place of death. We pray, we study, we joyfully respond to his simple requests, the first being, “Go and tell others.”

That initial act of accepting God’s outstretched loving hand remains simple, however.

The Red Meat of Lent

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

What does advanced, mature Christianity look like? Well, sort of like advanced eating.

That is Paul’s metaphor, not mine. In his first known letter to the church at Corinth, Paul drew a clear distinction between those who have advanced in their relationship with God via the Holy Spirit and those who have not. His critique of the church was harsh; despite having had plenty of time to grow in their Christian faith, they remained mewling babies, unable to handle anything except the most basic spiritual food.

The evidence underlying Paul’s accusation was straightforward. The church in Corinth suffered from disunity, breaking into factions and rallying around human leaders rather than Christ and the world-changing message of the cross.

It’s a brilliant metaphor, one that can be stretched far without breaking. Most of us have seen how children grow from milk to mashed food to an eventual desire for nourishment as complicated as red meat.

I’ll just go ahead and apologize to the vegetarians now; feel free to visualize raw kale and radicchio instead.

Many children even exhibit a strong desire to move from one type of food to the next, demanding what they’ve never had when they first see it. Mine certainly did.

We’re made to hunger in the same way spiritually, moving from the basic, comforting message of the cross to more challenging concepts. Just as it would be sad to see an adult unable to stomach anything except milk, it should sadden us to see people 10 or 20 years into their Christian lives who have not moved beyond a beginning Christian’s understanding of the cross.

C’mon, Try a Bite

With all that in mind, I want to put a spiritual sampler platter before you. It is, after all, the season of Lent, that time when we take on new spiritual disciplines. If you haven’t tried some of this, you should.

Advanced Bible Study. I’m not just talking about being able to distinguish Noah from Moses. Can you dive into God’s word and tease out the big, overarching messages of Scripture? For example, there are recurring themes like creation and holiness, the brokenness sin brings, God’s overwhelming love for us, and the tremendous gifts of grace granted us. Can you then use those concepts to keep the more complicated or troubling points of Scripture in context?

Do you know what it means to study the Bible inductively, to let the Holy Spirit work through Scripture to shape you and change you? It’s a much better approach than letting your human thoughts and emotions blind you to God’s revealed truths.

You do not have to go to seminary to learn all of this. Every good church offers you the opportunity to learn such things.

Advanced Prayer. It’s good to pray the Lord’s Prayer and to take time to pray for your family and others around you. But we can go so much further in prayer.

Ever heard of contemplative prayer? Everyone talks about meditation these days, usually from the perspective of yoga practice or Buddhist teachings. Christianity has its own form of meditative prayer, designed to help us better understand God’s will in our lives.

If you followed last September’s prayer series, or Advent’s prayer series, you’ve been exposed to some of these ideas already.

Ever tried praying Scripture? Using the Psalms as a basis for prayer is particularly helpful and enlightening.

Our goal should be to turn our lives into a walking prayer, to “pray without ceasing,” living in constant union with God. Are we there yet? I’m not, but I know I want more!

Living and Using Our Spiritual Gifts. God continues to pour out gifts on us, even after salvation. Do you know what your gifts are? I continue to be astonished by Christians who don’t know how they are gifted.

The gifts we are given tell us specifically how God is wanting to use us in this world now. Knowing these gifts lets us be more effective as we help God build his kingdom. There also is great satisfaction in developing these gifts.

Portrait of a Healthy Eater

If you’re not trying all the possibilities God has placed before you, maybe it will help if I give you a picture of what a mature spiritual eater looks like. We can become spiritually svelte, holy and attractive to God.

In particular, I look to another of Paul’s writings, the letter to the Galatians. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul listed what he called the “fruits of the Spirit,” the result of deep engagement with God.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Paul said.

Who would not want to be described by others as such a person? And as Paul knew, such people have little trouble understanding God’s will and how to live in unity.

As I say sometimes during communion, the table is set. Come, partake.


American culture does not seem to place much value on self-analysis. I’ve noticed that even Christian Americans tend to deride such activity as “navel gazing,” implicitly preferring action to introspection.

I intend, however, to defend the contemplation of the navel today. The Bible tells me to do as much.

We are now in what is supposed to be an extended period of reflection for Christians, leading up to the celebration of Easter April 9. As has been mentioned already, some denominations, including various kinds of Methodists, call this church season “Lent,” which should not be confused with the fuzzy threads you may notice while gazing at your navel.

In Romans 10:8-13, we see the actions necessary to accept salvation. The Apostle Paul writes that “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

For most of us, however, it’s not possible to confess and believe, and keep on doing so, without a little self-analysis. We need such ongoing reflection to deepen our understanding of who we are as broken people and who God is as the pure and holy creator.

To accept and appreciate what has been done for us, we have to meditate on the chasm between humanity and God. Sin, our inability to obey God’s will, causes this separation, of course.

If you want a big-picture view of the break in the relationship, read the story of what we call “the fall” in Genesis 3. And if you want to see yourself in the story, meditate a while on the last time you did what you instinctively knew was wrong, behaving like a modern Adam or Eve.

Most of us who call ourselves Christians have been through this meditative process at least once. Understanding our separation from God is what brought us to our knees in the first place. But some post-conversion navel gazing is healthy, too.

None of us is made perfect by that first moment of confession and belief, and with God’s help we want to become more loving as time passes. That’s why Lent is so useful. Once a year, we are reminded of our need to reflect, and in that reflection we draw even closer to God, growing in our faith and our ability to do God’s work.

Yes, it can be a somber effort. But remember who lies at the end of it all. In our brokenness, we are met by Jesus Christ, the one who took ultimate action.

In dying on the cross for our sins and then overcoming death, he closed the chasm, and reunion with our creator is possible. Easter joy is just around the corner!

Defining What’s Important

What is the Holy Bible, anyway? On the surface, it almost sounds like a kindergarten question, but I think it’s critical that traditional Christians ask it of each other, particularly in this season of Lent.

I am convinced that a lot of the problems we have been experiencing in Methodism and in American Christianity in general stem from a breakdown in the traditional understanding of what the Bible is and how it should be used by the faithful. If we are to participate in any Christian awakening that may be developing, I believe we have to get this definition of Scripture right.

After all, the Holy Bible is the primary record of how God has spoken to humanity for nearly 4,000 years. If we as believers stop a moment and let that sink in, we should feel at least a slight shiver of astonishment, followed by a deep sense of reverence. God guides us today through writings set down by prophets, apostles and other Holy Spirit-inspired writers going back as far as the Bronze Age.

Problems arise now because people think the Bible needs to somehow be “modernized,” that is, reinterpreted or even pared to fit competing worldviews. There is nothing new about these worldviews, however; they simply are ideas that get recycled every so many years, sometimes lying dormant for decades or even centuries.

They seem new because a generation has become unfamiliar with them. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” For example, what are considered innovations in human sexuality today are really nothing more than a return to the sexual mores that were prevalent in the Greek-Roman culture, where Judaism managed to survive and Christianity flourished while opposing what God called unholy.

Bowing to accommodate these competing worldviews amounts to idolatry. When we do so, we place worldly ideas on a pedestal above God’s revelations.

Christians, we were warned such trying moments would happen: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3.)

So, back to the original question. What is the Holy Bible if you believe Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior? Here’s my attempt at an extended answer:

It is timeless. With its authors guided by the Holy Spirit, grand truths that apply to any moment in human history are revealed, and all that is within the Bible must be interpreted in light of those universal revelations.

Its core, critical truth is that God has redeemed sinful humanity through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. As Paul was prone to say, “We preach Christ crucified.” The Old Testament points to this event; the New Testament details and explains its importance.

The Holy Bible is God’s library, filled with a rich variety of literary devices. There is narration, of course, storytelling at its finest. We also find within it poetry, allegory, discourse, basic record keeping, apocalyptic visions, and other genres. We have to understand how each genre works if we are to interpret what we find there. It is not all to be read literally, but again, it all does reveal truth.

God’s word reveals these truths so that they may change us. We are fools if we try to change them.

The Holy Bible is the birthright of the born-again Christian. It belongs to us, not the world, even as it calls us to invite the world to faith in Jesus Christ.

I also will add what the Bible is not. It is not, as some people say, a document that can be made to say whatever we want it to say. People who make that remark lack a basic understanding of how to read the Bible as a whole. In particular, they do not know how to interpret the details in light of the great themes.

As we continue into Lent, I encourage us as believers to throw ourselves into this gift from God wholeheartedly. Find a guide if you need one. And if you seek truth but don’t yet believe—well, beware. Genuine, prayerful, open-minded study of what’s in there may change your life.

Ashes and Onward

Today is Ash Wednesday. For some of you that means a lot, and for some of you that means very little. Regardless, I want to invite you to a season of spiritual growth as we begin Lent.

Lent, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is a season in the church’s liturgical calendar. Preceding Easter, which is April 9 this year, Lent has long been a time of reflection as Christians ready themselves for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Many of the ancient Christian churches saw this as a time of preparation for adult converts seeking to be baptized in the faith.

Ash Wednesday services typically launch Lent by focusing on a renewed connection to God through confession, repentance and that word some find icky, discipline. For those of you who have read Methodist Life regularly, this should already make sense, as confession and repentance have been embedded in disciplined prayer patterns we covered in September of last year and during the season of Advent.

I first want to encourage you to continue or resume the pattern of praying three times a day. You can review the suggested parts of such a pattern by going back to the “Expect Christ” series from Advent.

Second, I hope you will seriously consider finding an Ash Wednesday service at a church near you to begin the season of Lent. If you’re near the church I serve, Holston View Methodist in Weber City, Va., feel free to join us at 7 p.m. this evening. If you’ve never been to such a service before, don’t let the mystery of it all, or the ashes, scare you. Ash Wednesday services are usually quite simple, and the optional “black cross on the forehead” merely is an outward sign of repentance.

I also am going to be writing about Lent on a weekly basis here on Methodist Life, publishing on Wednesdays. As I write these weekly articles, I also hope some of us can develop a more personal connection throughout the season. If any of you would like to form an online discussion group during Lent, just email me at

Such a group would make use of Christian videos found on RightNow Media. In fact, the kind folks at RightNow Media have said I can extend my church’s subscription to any of you viewing Methodist Life. Simply click here to gain free access. (If you have trouble getting access, let me know.)

I pray we can all be blessed by this season and develop some new relationships in the process.

On a Sunday Morning Sidewalk

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

By Chuck Griffin

As we make our way through Holy Week, I’m struck by how often I’ve returned to a theme in my preaching during Lent. I have hoped that we are all reflecting on how well we fulfill the Great Commission, that basic duty all Christians have.

It’s always important that we find winsome ways to tell people about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Every new generation needs to hear this truth from a previous generation. The task seems especially relevant now, as we begin to consider how a post-pandemic Christian life should look.

Most of the folks who read these LifeTalk devotions on Methodist Life are traditional Methodists, and right now, these people are probably at least a little interested in a big change that is coming, the launch of a new Methodist denomination that will adhere to traditional Christian doctrines. The preservation of these basic Christian concepts is important.

I will make a prediction, however. If we don’t resume fulfilling the Great Commission in a powerful way, a new denomination will prove to be irrelevant! All it does is give us a solid foundation as we begin to fix our biggest problem, which is the unwillingness of most American Christians to find ways to share their faith with others. A huge shift in our attitudes still has to occur.

It is my sense that a lot of us simply don’t know where to start. Having existed with Christianity as our cultural baseline for so long, even elderly Christians have lived most of their lives without having to think much about what it means to share the gospel—to evangelize. Up into the late 20th century, you could build a church building, and people tended to come. Talking about Jesus Christ as Savior was the province of the preacher and a few talented Sunday school teachers.

I want to offer Christians a simple target audience for our message of love and hope. These people are unlikely to enter our buildings on their own. But they are lost, spiritually crushed and confused, and thanks to God’s unrelenting grace, they are beginning to sense they need a change.

We can find them in all sorts of places. It helps to have a guide to go by, however, a way to imagine them so they are easier to see when we are out in the world. I think I’ve found such a guide in an old song.

Back in the late 1960s, Kris Kristofferson wrote a song called “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” A lot of people have recorded it over the years, but Johnny Cash took it to No. 1 in 1970, winning the Country Music Association’s award for Song of the Year.

I’ll simply offer you a chance to listen to it:

It’s raw, of course, and in it I hear the cry of a person who feels the stirring of a vague memory of what is righteous, along with a poorly understood desire to return to it. In a sermon a few weeks ago, I compared the moment to the pigpen revelation the wayward boy has in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Hurting people today may be in superficially different situations than they were in 1970, but I’m guessing their unspoken desire for caring people to come out on the sidewalk and lead them home hasn’t changed.

Let’s learn to be those caring people again.

Lord, as we pray so often, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. We also could use a dose of courage, the kind that allows us to leave our comfortable circles and go to the places where we can offer hope to those in need. Amen.